Tova Ovits, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Plastic dolls, no matter how lifelike, cannot be cuddled to a mother’s body to demonstrate helpful breastfeeding positions. Some open-mouthed plastic dolls sold for breastfeeding demonstrations can be more useful for demonstrating the need to get therapy for torticollis (a twisted neck)! After searching for a better option, I adapted an inexpensive soft-bodied doll by adding an open mouth and tongue. The new mouth opens widely enough to show a nipple tilt or breast sandwich with a knitted or crocheted breast.
I bought a soft-bodied doll with a fabric face and embroidered lips for about $10. It was one that could rotate its arms and legs at the shoulder and hip, allowing the “baby” to hug the mother’s breast and curl around her body. For the new lips and tongue, cut two fingers off a cheap pair of stretchy one-size-fits-all winter gloves (or stretchy shower glove fingers if you are adapting a doll in the summertime, see the pictures below).
Opening the mouth
Cut two fingers off a stretchy glove and place one finger inside the other, with the fingertip sticking out and the cut end inside the other finger. The outer finger will be the mouth. The cut edges of the outer finger will be folded back to create the new lips and keep the fabric from unraveling. The inner finger is the tongue. It can be sewn into place in the mouth at the back of the tongue, but ensure there is enough length for it to stretch past the bottom lip.
Carefully cut open the doll’s embroidered mouth. Cut a little bit more than the width of the mouth, to allow it to open wider. Use your finger to separate the top and bottom of the mouth and press the embroidered lips into the new hole to support the new mouth.
Insert the new mouth and tongue (glove fingers) into the hole you created. Use your finger to push it in deeply, making sure that the tongue (glove fingertip) lies flat inside the mouth (cut edge of the glove finger). Extend the edges of the new mouth to cover the outer edges of the doll’s embroidered lips.
Fold the edges of the outer glove finger against the doll’s face, so the cut end does not unravel, and sew the folded edge along the outer edge of the doll’s (embroidered) lips. You can sew the corners of the new lips upward, to create a smile. Or you can sew a philtrum (the vertical groove on the upper lip) into the top lip by stitching a vertical line between nose and the center point of the top lip.
To demonstrate tongue-tie, tie a knot at the end of your thread and insert your sewing needle from the doll’s chin into the doll’s mouth, then tack the tongue down through the chin. Pull the knot down, so the thread has room to let the tongue elevate and extend, and knot the other end of the thread. The knots let you pull the tongue back down; hold them tightly to show how a tie keeps the tongue from moving properly.
Adding weight to the doll
After completing the mouth, carefully open the seams along the neck, back, arms, and legs. I used florist sand in some of my dolls, and organic cedar chips (kitty litter!) in others. I put the filling material into zipper-type snack bags or sandwich bags and carefully stuff the bags back inside the doll through the open seams before sewing them shut. The finished dolls weigh between two and four pounds when filled. You can make your doll as heavy as you want by adding more or less weighting material. I carry a lightweight doll in my bag for home visits where only the head is weighted, to allow the doll to “look up” to latch.
Tova Ovits lives in Brooklyn, New York, USA, with her husband, Mordechai, and their three children, Chaya Mindy (15), Zack (13), and Hillel (5). As the oldest of six breastfed children, Tova grew up knowing she would breastfeed. Since 2011 she has been a Leader with LLL of Marine Park/Madison and compiles an online resource list for breastfeeding supporters in a Google Document found at http://bit.ly/1eVC23V. Tova is also a Certified Lactation Counselor in private practice, blogs about breastfeeding at FirstLatch.com, and plans to sit for the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) exam in 2016.